The New Zealand display at the 1992 Seville Expo endeavoured to show that New Zealand was a highly cultured and sophisticated country as well as being something of a clean, green Pacific paradise. While many exciting new and innovative export products were displayed at the New Zealand Pavilion, visitors were also able to learn something of our antipodean culture.
One of the best ways to do this was to view Treasures of the Underworld, a major exhibition of ceramics and glass by New Zealand artists, mounted on the mezzanine of the New Zealand Pavilion, and one of the highlights of the New Zealand display. According to Ian Fraser, the Commissioner General of the New Zealand Expo Commission, Treasures of the Underworld was ‘. . . one of the more popular presentations at Expo ’92, attracting the biggest audience ever to any exhibition of New Zealand art’. (1).
Artists were asked to make something larger than they had ever made before. Each artist was given a motivational phrase to drive their work, and link it to the overall exhibition. The phrase given to Ann Robinson, who was already internationally known for her large blue, kava-style bowls, was ‘Southern Hemisphere’.
Pacific Bowl certainly fulfils Robinson’s ‘Southern Hemisphere’ brief. As well as being an actual hemisphere, the bowl’s intense blue colour and enormous size evokes images of the Pacific. Robinson believed the size of the New Zealand Pavilion and the nature of Expo ‘92 required the ‘. . . work of a “ceremonial” rather than a “domestic” scale, works of ritual power. I leapt with confident audacity into making works of such a scale and technical complexity that even now I would hesitate to try them again.’ (2)
The slightly different shades of blue in the glass of Pacific Bowl give a marine effect, as do the surf-like bubbles on the outer surface. The many grooves in the glass are reminiscent of the ripples caused by wind on water.
Ann Robinson sees the bowl as a ‘timeless form’ with both ancient and modern meanings. ‘The bowl evokes all it has historically been – from the earliest mortar, through ritual and religious bowls, to the bowls that talk to satellites. The receiver, the holder, the protector, the offeror, and the transmitter.’ (3)
Pacific Bowl is made of cast rather than blown glass, and was produced by a wax casting technique developed by Ann Robinson, based on the pâte-de-verre technique. Meaning ‘paste glass’ in French, pâte-de-verre is an ancient technique first used by the Romans and revived in France during the second half of the nineteenth century. The technique is complicated, time-consuming and breakage is very common. Up to two thirds of Ann Robinson’s work breaks before completion.
The process of pâte-de-verre begins with pouring molten wax into a plaster base mould to produce a wax model or ‘blank’. This blank is then refined and altered and placed into a second mould, that can withstand high heat for long periods. Next, the blank is put in to a hot kiln causing the wax to melt out, leaving the baked mould.
Ground glass in the form of a crystal powder is then poured into the mould. Several other ingredients are added, including colour (blue for Pacific Bowl) as well as fluxing medium – an alkaline substance that helps the silica particles in the glass fuse more easily. The ground glass becomes molten in the heat of the kiln and all the ingredients mix together.
The mould, now full of molten glass, is then removed and cooled to room temperature. It is vital that the mould is cooled slowly otherwise the glass shatters. Large pieces such as Pacific Bowl, which consists of about fifty kilograms of glass, take up to three weeks to cool. Once the bowl has cooled it is removed from the mould. This is done by chipping the plaster mould away from the glass, so great care is needed. To complete the bowl, it is sandblasted and hand polished to remove the rough edges.
(1) Fraser, Ian. (1993). Introductions in Mack, James. Treasures of the Underworld. Wellington: Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. p 3.
(2) Robinson, Ann. (1993) in Treasures of the Underworld. Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. p 35.
(3) Robinson. (1993). p 35.
Text originally published in Tai Awatea, Te Papa's onfloor multimedia database (1998).